History & Tradition of Zapotec Weaving in Oaxaca Valley, Mexico
By the time Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, the Zapotec Indians of Teotitlan del Valle, a small village nestled among the foothills of the Sierra Madres in the Oaxaca Valley of Southwestern Mexico, had a centuries old tradition of weaving textiles from cotton and other plant fibers. Zapotec weavings have been found in Pueblo Indian sites from the 8th century A.D. in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.
In the mid-seventeenth century, Dominican friars introduced the European upright loom and sheep in the New World, and for the next three hundred years the weavers in Teotitlan wove the finest serapes in southern Mexico and Guatemala.
In spite of more recent cultural changes among many of Mexico's native Indian groups, the high level of craftsmanship of the Colonial period serapes is still evident in the distinctive use of color and handspun yarns in the contemporary textiles woven by the Zapotec Indians of Teotitlan del Valle.
Writing in The Smithsonian Magazine, Bruce Selcraig states that, "Anthropologists and importers alike agree that this tiny Third World jewel boasts one of the highest standards of living of any indigenous village in our hemisphere, perhaps the world—not because of drugs, but, remarkably enough, rugs."
While rugs are the most prominent export of Teotitlan, the Zapotec artisans are also known for their blankets, black pottery, baskets, and woodcarvings. “Teotitlán is a folk art miracle,” says Barbara Mauldin, curator of the Latin American collection at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “They have a great product, but it’s all about the people—their artistic talent, perseverance, marketing savvy, plus the good fortune of being located near a major tourist market in one of the most beautiful valleys in Latin America.”